The Ferret proudly presents to the people of earth a round-up of the top five gadgets to make your Skype chat easier than ever. Unlike the poor Skype employees above, forced through office space cut-backs to conduct their Google share dealing in the corridor of Skype House, we have located the best kit to untether your calls from the computer, or at least part of the way. Read on for more, McDuff…
Skype One – Chat Cord. www.chat-cord.com
Installation – Literally five minutes. If you aren’t colour blind, can plug two/three cables into the right sockets and know how to locate a USB port you’re done. Note the minimalist 2 page user documentation below. Not much else needed actually. The second green cable is for an external pair of speakers, by the way, so you can hear calls come in even though you have the headphone socket occupied.
Ease of use – This is one of those ‘duh’ products which even Homer Simpson could probably understand. Hmm…then again…Anyway once it’s all hooked up, to make a call just dial on the Skype client as usual, but instead of talking through a mic and speakers, use your choice of cordless or conventional landline phones. Featured here is a secondhand £6.00 Philips Xalio 200 I picked up at a local bargain bin. They’re not hard to find. The trick is to remember to press the call button on the phone when you want to start the conversation, i.e. when you hear the party on the other end pick up on your PC speakers. After that you can wander off to the range of your cordless, Skyping away merrily.
Voice quality – Pretty good. The calls were certainly clear and distinct, and at least as good as a normal phone line, if not a bit better. The documentation says, and I agree, that you may need to fiddle with the mic level settings to avoid deafening yourself through the handset.
Overall value for money – $24.95/£18.99. Well even throwing in the cost of the Xalio, this is a fantastically cost effective solution. You won’t get VoIP cheaper unless you just stick to the vanilla PC speakers and microphone will you?
Pros – Super easy set up, good voice quality, excellent value for money.
Cons – Still tethered to the computer for dialling, acceptance and hang up of calls.
Rating – 7.5/10
Skype Two – Flashphone F2K www.mplat.com
Installation – The F2K comes fully configured for Skype in a simple but functional box. Installation is therefore just a matter of plugging the attractive looking flash drive into the nearest computer USB port. If you’re doing this on a late SP2 Windows XP machine, the software automatically pops up a box to configure the device as a Skype Mobile phone on that machine, which makes the whole process a breeze. From there all you have to do is go to Windows Explorer and right click on the Flash Drive letter and select ‘Start up Skype’. Unfortunately if you’re using earlier generations of Windows XP, there’s no guarantee that the whole set up will work, which can be rather problematical.
Ease of Use – Don’t bother using the rather sparse User Manual that comes with the kit, just peruse the Read Me file on the Flash Drive itself, it’s a bit more informative, although it does seem to cover ground which is not necessary in terms of configuration. Assuming that all has gone well and the drive has installed as advertised, which we managed to achieve, then Skype should pop up nicely on the machine and you can log in and start your calling. That’s simple enough in every department, isn’t it?
Voice quality – The quality of the voice over the swish looking headset/microphone combination is surprisingly good. It will never match the quality of a close coupled mic system or a proper handset, but every word is clear enough to hear and there was no appreciable hiss or other noise to distract. It seemed a bit faint at first, however, so again maybe a fiddle with the volume settings may be in order.
Overall value for money – $39.90. At first glance it may see a little expensive for what is essentially just a 128 MB drive, but the portability of carrying your own Skype phone around with you, plus the added convenience of storing useful personal files and programs (e.g. a portable Firefox and email client?) make this an attractive product for the road warrior on the move.
Pros – When it works it works, voice quality good, nice white headset and storage space for additional data you may need to carry around with you.
Cons – When it doesn’t work it can be a pain to configure. Even when working you need to hunt for the right mouse click option to start up Skype the first time (although it will subsequently start up automatically on that machine).
Rating – 6.5/10